I'm a sucker for half-assed subliminal messages: the kind you detect, but can't quite make out. Doesn't matter what they say: "Eat your broccoli," "Kill so-and-so," "Buy 11 more copies of this album." I'm highly enamored of the notion that someone can transmit a message that bypasses the conscious self but still gives a li'l tip of the hat to the ol' psychic censor. The whispered introduction to Denali's "French Mistake," for instance, intrigues me to no end. But by the time it first entered my earholes, I'd already spent numerous hours giving Denali's five-song demo--which I picked up at their enthralling Entry show last January--my undivided attention. And my fascination with the band's music suggests to me, at least, that other forces must be at work.
So great is vocalist Maura Davis's power as a stylist that she can repeat a line as vague as "I'm feeling something tonight," (the chorus of the aforementioned "French Mistake,") and still suck the listener all the way in with it. While comparisons to fellow changelings Alison Goldfrapp and Jennifer Charles are all but inevitable, Davis handily skirts Goldfrapp's starry sky and Charles's enchanted thicket. Instead, she opts for an abstract nocturnal songscape where she hunts, gets hunted, or plots her next inscrutable move in candlelight and shadow. Plus, where Goldfrapp warbles and Charles whispers, Davis is that rarest of all birds in indie rock, the sort of bona fide belter who could have thrived 50 or 60 years ago. (And, for that matter, could probably thrive 50 or 60 years hence.)
As for conscious interpretations of the freshman album, critics are bound to give Denali any number of readings. You can bet that at least one writer will dwell on Davis's sex appeal and/or call her a torch singer. It's perfectly possible that some clever record-store clerk will make a sticker for the album that calls it "sophisticated downtempo post-emo." And I might even come up with something like "imagine early Ella Fitzgerald fronting a resolutely 21st-century Joy Division." Funny thing is, none of us will be exactly wrong.
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